I went to lunch one day with a woman I had met recently and I noticed she wasn’t looking me in the eye. She was staring at the space between my eyebrows. I tried to carry on a conversation and ignore her gaze when she pointed a manicured finger at my face and said rudely and deliberately, “Botox.” She clearly thought I needed Botox, I had a wrinkle or two that must have been bothering her smooth and shiny face and it was unsettling for her. It was even more unsettling for me. I didn’t take offense but I didn’t like it. I left the restaurant, got in my car and looked in the mirror. I was okay with what I saw. Of course I noticed imperfections, but I said out loud, “Why can’t I be the age that I am? What’s wrong with that? Why am I supposed to feel ashamed to look my age?”

Children aren’t ashamed of looking young, so why can’t we look
old? Being old is every bit as natural and inevitable as infancy, childhood, adulthood and middle age. Aging happens when it happens, it’s just another stage of life to be experienced, and we’re lucky if we get to stick around for it. I don’t like the expression, “Forty is the new thirty. Fifty is the new forty.” What does that even mean? Why can’t forty be forty? Why can’t fifty be fifty? Who says we can’t show our hard earned wisdom and our battle wounds we gained from living our lives?

I want to be clear here that I don’t have judgments on women who choose to have fillers or face lifts. I believe those things are a choice
we are all free to make. I just don’t want to be judged for my choice to leave my face the way it is or be shamed for having wrinkles. I don’t want someone pointing at my face and insisting I need Botox. I want to be free to go out without makeup and feel comfortable. Most of all, I don’t want to erase my face. I want my emotions to register in my expression and I want to feel proud of the years that I’ve journeyed in my lifetime.

We live in a society where aging is looked down upon. I have a favorite photograph, a head shot of a Chippewa Native American woman who reportedly lived to 123 years old. Her wrinkled face looks like a roadmap of her life, the many experiences she had, her trials and successes. Her failures and her celebrations. Her disappointments and her surprises. They are there for all the world to see and I think she is truly beautiful. She was not ashamed of
growing old and she was treated with respect by her tribe which must have made it a lot easier. Young tribal members sought her counsel and they took care of her as she aged. Doesn’t that sound delicious? She didn’t have to cough up thousands of dollars for fillers, invasive surgeries and liposuction. She didn’t have to lie about her age. She didn’t have to endure elder abuse or criticism for being an old woman. She could take pride in her long life and all that she had seen and learned.

When I teach my writing classes, I constantly remind my students that when they write, there is no good or bad. There is authentic and
inauthentic. Honesty or dishonesty. When you tell the truth on the page, you are automatically writing something powerful and interesting. When you don’t tell the truth, nobody is interested. Everyone has a real story and we are so much more than the image in the mirror. My cat stares into a mirror endlessly and you can be sure she isn’t deciding if she looks good or bad. She’s simply
fascinated with what she sees.

I have to admit that sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder if I still look okay. I’m only human. I wonder if I need to change something or do something. I wonder if people still find me attractive but I like to leave it there. I know that I look better and feel better when I do things that keep me strong and healthy. I make sure to exercise, eat well and be kind to the people in my life. I monitor my anxiety levels and do my best to be present and aware of my needs. I rest when I’m tired, I cry when I’m sad, I laugh when I think something is funny and grieve when I feel loss. I just want to be
authentic and appreciate how I look and how I live my life. Fifty can look like fifty. So can sixty and seventy. I can feel like I’m stuck with myself and try to change how I look, or I can appreciate the fact that I can still get up in the morning and be graced to live another day. That’s good enough for me.